Three farmers, a businessman, a teacher and a banker will be welcomed into the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame Jan. 21.
The six have all been longtime residents of Southeastern Washington. The inductees’ names were announced at a Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce luncheon Jan. 5.
The group will be formally inducted into the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame at a dinner Jan. 21 at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel. The dinner is sponsored by the Chamber and the Port of Pasco.
The six 2016 inductees will make a total of 69 members of the Agriculture Hall of Fame, said Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco chamber.
This year’s inductees are the late Lawrence and Iris Hayes of the Connell area, Dick Muhlbeier of Pasco, Kerrin Bleazard of Pasco, Bob Tippett of Pasco and Chep Gauntt of Burbank.
The early members of the Mid-Columbia Agricultural Hall of Fame were all Mid-Columbia agricultural pioneers, Hastings said.
“When we first began the Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2000, there was just the one category — the Pioneer Award,” he said. “Six or eight people were inducted that first year and then later categories, like the Agricultural Advisor Award and this year the Stewardship award was added.”
The 2016 inductees are being recognized for their outstanding contributions to agriculture and agribusiness in four categories: the Pioneer Award, Young Agribusiness Person of the Year, Agricultural Advisor Award and the Visionary Award.
Lawrence and Iris Hayes, who farmed in Block 19 near Mesa and Connell, will be honored with the Pioneer Award, which recognizes individuals who have had a significant influence on the development of agriculture in the Mid-Columbia and who unselfishly served their communities.
The Hayes family settled in Block 19 of the Columbia Basin Project near Mesa in 1957.
Farming in those early years was a true pioneering effort — wind erosion, canal breaches, crop failures and low commodity prices and living conditions were brutal. The Hayes home had no domestic water for the first six months until a community well was completed.
Iris Hayes taught school to bring in extra income and helped establish the Basin City Homemakers and Women in Farm Economics organizations. She was also a founding member of the Columbia Basin Junior Livestock Show.
Lawrence Hayes served on the boards of the Big Bend Electric Cooperative and the Mid-Columbia Library District. He was active in the Cattlemen’s Association and other commodity groups.
They both volunteered their time as 4-H leaders, firefighters and ambulance drivers.
The Stewardship Award will be presented to farmer Chep Gauntt of Burbank. The award honors individuals who actively display exemplary community involvement and enhance agribusiness through leadership or technology development.
Gauntt grew up on a family farm in Moses Lake. He studied business at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake and at Eastern Washington University. He began working at Green Giant, rising through the ranks of management until he was in charge of asparagus operations stretching from Walla Walla to Basin City. Later Gauntt decided to farm independently. He became an avid steward of the land and of agriculture itself, eagerly learning new methods as technology advanced. Gauntt encourages his son, Drex Gauntt, to use high-tech tools like GPS, variable rate application, soil moisture monitoring and even drones. Gauntt enjoys sharing what he learns with other farmers.
Gauntt helped resuscitate the Columbia Basin College agriculture program, the campus farm and the scholarship program. With his input, a “pipeline” concept now starts in high school and can lead to a four-year, and higher, college degree.
The Visionary Award will be presented to Bob Tippett of Pasco. It recognizes a person who has had an extraordinary impact on agriculture.
Tippett’s family founded Tippett Land and Mortgage Company. In the late 1960s, the firm opened a Kennewick office to broker start-up loans for Columbia Basin farmers. Fresh out of Boise State University with a degree in accounting, Bob Tippett took over the Kennewick office.
He returned to Boise when his father died, but moved back to the Tri-Cities in the mid-1980s, when the farm economy was in a slump and banks were foreclosing. Tippett helped many farmers, giving sound advice on how to survive the financial crisis. He also became a partner with Jim O’Conner in a company managing lender-owned farms.
Hastings said Tippett is a man of vision who has been involved in agricultural lending, management and real estate. He has operated a hay farm and a seed business, helped develop the Pasco Processing Center and the TRAC facility, and has served the community on the boards of the Pasco and Tri-Cities chambers, TRIDEC, the Wine Science Center, Young Life and other organizations.
The Agriculture Advisor award, which recognizes individuals in ag-related youth programs and similar organizations who have influenced young people through their leadership, guidance and community involvement, will be presented to Kerrin Bleazard of Pasco, a teacher at Columbia Basin College.
In 2007, Bleazard was chosen to revitalize the agriculture program at CBC through teaching, research and outreach. She quickly moved toward a science-based curriculum that prepares students for 25 four-year degree choices in agriculture and agribusiness. Although she wasn’t raised on a farm, Bleazard became hooked on agriculture while attending a class at Kamiakin High School. She went on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in agriculture science at Washington State University.
Bleazard worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and taught agricultural classes at Kahlotus High School before joining the CBC faculty.
Outside of the classroom, Bleazard’s students get hands-on experience working on the CBC farm and in the greenhouse. Her program was honored by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. In 2010, Bleazard was named Outstanding Postsecondary Agricultural Education Teacher, one of only six in the nation earning that distinction.
The Rising Star Award goes to Dick Muhlbeier, manager of RDO Equipment Company of Pasco.
The award acknowledges a young individual in the agriculture industry who demonstrates a commitment to community involvement with a dedication to enhancing agriculture. Muhlbeier was raised on the family farm near Basin City. He was active in 4-H and FFA, and won numerous livestock awards at the fairs. While attending Connell High School, he also took classes at Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick to learn about heavy equipment.
Muhlbeier worked for RDO in his senior year and excelled in the John Deere Agriculture Program after graduation. He also earned degrees at Walla Walla Community College.
Muhlbeier also supports programs for youth, makes sure FFA chapters have tractors for competitions, conducts presentations and tours, and takes heavy machinery to the Kidz Dig Rigz event for the Kadlec Foundation.
Muhlbeier helps with the Farm Fair and the Junior Livestock Show and volunteers his time for Second Harvest and Habitat for Humanity.
The inductees for the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame are chosen by a committee comprised of past inductees and others active in the industry. Nominations from others in the community are also more than welcome, Hastings said.
“The committee meets year ‘round and each candidate goes through quite a vetting process. It’s not a popularity contest,” Hastings said.
The committee reviews about 30 to 40 submissions a year to make their choices. Just because a candidate isn’t chosen one year doesn’t mean they’re not considered for another year.
“The committee goes through those they have from past years and any new nominations that have come in before making their choices,” Hastings said.
Candidates are chosen from farmers, families and agribusiness leaders in Franklin, eastern Benton and western Walla Walla counties.
“There’s much more to agriculture than those who grow crops or raise cattle. Some of our inductees are not necessarily farmers but help support agriculture in other ways like banking, insurance, trucking. They, too, have a lot of impact on agriculture,” he said.
The Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame is a way to showcase how much agriculture means to this area economically and how much those in agriculture support our community. “What they contribute is amazing, not just financially but in time too,” he said.
The Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame was created in 2000 to recognize and honor distinguished individuals that have made significant contributions to the agricultural community in the Greater Franklin County region and its immediate surrounding areas, although nominees from areas bordering Franklin County including Eastern Benton county and the western half of Walla Walla County are often considered for this award.
The group will be inducted into the Mid-Columbia Agriculture Hall of Fame at a formal event on Jan. 21 at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel.
They will be inducted into the 2016 Mid-Columbia Ag Hall of Fame on Jan. 21. The evening starts at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour, followed by a dinner featuring Mid-Columbia produce and wines. Cost is $65 per person and reservations are required.
For more information, or reservations, contact the Pasco Chamber of Commerce, 509-547-9755 or online at www.pascochamber.org. Or drop by the office at 1110 Osprey Pointe Blvd., Suite 101, Pasco. No tickets will be sold at the door.
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